Spaceflight Now: Atlas launch report


May 3, 2000 -- Follow the countdown and launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket and the GOES-L advanced weather satellite for NASA and NOAA. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

0900 GMT (5:00 a.m. EDT)

The United States launched its newest weather-watching satellite early today to ensure forecasters have accurate information during this summer's predicted active hurricane season. Read our complete story about the launch and GOES-L satellite. Also, be sure to watch our launch video.

0734 GMT (3:34 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 27 minutes, 5 seconds. SPACECRAFT SEPARATION! The GOES-L weather satellite has been released into space following a successful launch today by the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket.

The spacecraft will establish contact with a series of tracking stations to confirm its health over the next half-hour.

0733 GMT (3:33 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 26 minutes. The Centaur stage is now being to spin like a top in preparation for deploying the GOES satellite in about one minute.

0732 GMT (3:32 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 25 minutes. Now two minutes away from spacecraft separation. The orbit achieved during the second Centaur firing is as expected. "We are right on the money."

0731 GMT (3:31 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 24 minutes. The Centaur engines have shut down as planned follow the second upper stage burn this morning. This completes the powered phase of the launch.

0730 GMT (3:30 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 23 minutes. This 92-second burn continues of the Centaur upper stage to accelerate the GOES-L spacecraft into its planned orbit.

0729 GMT (3:29 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 22 minutes, 10 seconds. Centaur restart has occurred. The two upper stage engines have ignited with full thrust.

0727 GMT (3:27 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 20 minutes, 30 seconds. Live data from the rocket is now being received through the Ascension Island tracking station. The vehicle is stable as it approaches the equator.

0725 GMT (3:25 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 18 minutes. This is the quiet time of the flight with nothing really to report. The rocket is currently out of range from the network of ground tracking stations. The next station -- Ascension Island -- should acquire signals in about two minutes.

0721 GMT (3:21 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 14 minutes. The rocket has passed below the horizon of the Antigua Island tracking station. The next communications from the rocket through a ground site will come from Ascension Island in about six minutes.

0719 GMT (3:19 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 12 minutes. Officials report the parking orbit achieved this morning is very accurate.

0718 GMT (3:18 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 11 minutes. The rocket has entered a coast period that will last under T+plus 22 minutes, 4 seconds before the Centaur engines are restarted. This morning's launch is reported to be going very well with no problems.

0717 GMT (3:17 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 10 minutes. The Centaur's two engine has cut off as scheduled to complete their first of two firings in this morning's launch to place GOES-L into space.

0716 GMT (3:16 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 9 minutes. The tracking station on Antigua Island has picked up the rocket's signal as it travels downrange. Velocity is now 14,000 miles per hour.

0715 GMT (3:15 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 8 minutes. Vehicle continues heading right down the predicted flight track.

0714 GMT (3:14 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 7 minutes. Just over two-and-a-half minutes left in the Centaur's first of two firings to place the GOES-L spacecraft into a parking orbit around Earth.

0713 GMT (3:13 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 6 minutes. All Centaur systems appear normal. Altitude is 92 miles, downrange distance 371 miles, velocity 9,200 miles per hour.

0712 GMT (3:12 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 5 minutes, 5 seconds. Separation of the Atlas stage confirmed and ignition of Centaur's two engines has occurred. Good thrust reported for the Centaur's RL-10 powerplants.

0711 GMT (3:11 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes, 45 seconds. The sustainer engine on Atlas has shut down as planned.

0711 GMT (3:11 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 4 minutes. The payload fairing has separated. It is no longer needed to protect GOES-L during the launch.

0710 GMT (3:10 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. Altitude is 48 miles, downrange distance 92 miles, velocity 6,400 miles per hour.

0710 GMT (3:10 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 3 minutes. The booster engines have shut down and the booster package -- the bottom section of the rocket -- has been jettisoned.

0709 GMT (3:09 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Coming up on booster engine cutoff.

0708 GMT (3:08 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 90 seconds. All vehicle parameters are normal.

0708 GMT (3:08 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 60 seconds. The Atlas rocket continues its steady climb into the night sky. No problems reported.

0707 GMT (3:07 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 45 seconds. Vehicle acceleration reported smooth.

0707 GMT (3:07 a.m. EDT)

T+plus 30 seconds. Pitch and roll programs have started.

0707 GMT (3:07 a.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF. Liftoff of Atlas/Centaur-137 with the GOES-L weather satellite for NASA and NOAA. And the vehicle has cleared the tower.

0706 GMT (3:06 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 31 seconds. Launch Sequence Start.

In the next few seconds the inertial navigation unit's countdown will be started, the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vent valves will be locked and the flight data recorders will be readied.

0706 GMT (3:06 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 1 minute. Engines are being verified ready for flight and final status checks are under way.

In the past minute, the inertial navigation unit was launch enabled, liquid hydrogen tanking was secured, fuel tank pressures stable and the ignition enable switch was closed.

0705 GMT (3:05 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 2 minutes. Pressurization of the Atlas/Centaur vehicle has started. Tanks now being brought to proper pressure levels for flight. Engine preparations are completed.

Shortly, the rocket's inadventant separation destruct safety system will be armed, the Centaur upper stage will go to internal power and the flight termination system will be armed.

0704 GMT (3:04 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 3 minutes. The water system is being readied for activation at launch pad 36A.

0703 GMT (3:03 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 4 minutes. The Atlas booster stage and Flight Termination System have gone on internal power. Also, the GOES-L satellite is reported on internal power and ready for its ride into space.

0702 GMT (3:02 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes and counting. The countdown has picked up for launch of the Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket with the GOES-L weather satellite this morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. There are no problems standing in the way of liftoff.

0701 GMT (3:01 a.m. EDT)

The GOES-L spacecraft is now switching to internal power. Countdown clocks will resume in one minute.

0700 GMT (3:00 a.m. EDT)

The Lockheed Martin final readiness poll of the entire launch team was just conducted with all parties reporting a "go" for launch. Lockheed Martin Launch Director Adrian Laffitte then gave his approval for liftoff. Standing by the resume the countdown in two minutes for launch at 3:07 a.m. EDT.

0657 GMT (2:57 a.m. EDT)

The Eastern Range has given its "go" for launch.

0656 GMT (2:56 a.m. EDT)

NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale has completed a poll of his team and reports the space agency and GOES-L satellite are ready for launch. Liftoff still scheduled for 3:07 a.m. EDT.

0655 GMT (2:55 a.m. EDT)

The final readiness polls by NASA and Lockheed Martin will be coming up shortly. There are no problems to speak of this morning.

0653 GMT (2:53 a.m. EDT)

A series of tracking stations at the Cape and at sites downrange are ready to relay data from the Atlas rocket during launch this morning. The TEL-4 and MILA stations here at the Cape will provide coverage through the first eight minutes of flight. About seven minutes after launch, the tracking site on Antigua Island will acquire the rocket's signal, and follow the rocket for six minutes. The Ascension Island tracking station will pick up the rocket at about 20 1/2 minutes into flight and cover the mission through spacecraft separation, expected at T+plus 27 minutes, 3 seconds.

0650 GMT (2:50 a.m. EDT)

Despite the earlier problem with valves at the launch pad, this morning's countdown has proceeded well and the rocket was fueled without difficulty. The countdown remains stopped at T-minus 5 minutes with 12 minutes left in the built-in hold.

0647 GMT (2:47 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has entered the planned built-in hold at T-minus 5 minutes. During this 15-minute period, the launch team will have a chance to catch up on any work that could be running behind schedule. In addition, managers will poll various members of the launch team to ensure all systems are ready for liftoff.

0642 GMT (2:42 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 10 minutes and counting. Countdown clocks are nearing the final built-in hold at T-minus 5 minutes. That will be a 15-minute long hold. Launch still scheduled for 3:07 a.m. EDT (0707 GMT).

0637 GMT (2:37 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 15 minutes. The countdown continues ticking along smoothly and quietly this morning for a planned 3:07 a.m. EDT (0707 GMT) liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The Flight Termination System self-test check was recently completed. The FTS would be used to destroy the Atlas rocket should problem occur during the launch. Also, the pogo suppression system at pad 36A has been readied. The system will be used to dampen the "bounce" of the rocket during engine ignition.

0634 GMT (2:34 a.m. EDT)

A weather briefing was just given to launch managers by Air Force Launch Weather Officer Jim Sardonia. All launch weather rules are currently "green" and predicted to remain "go" today. At pad 36A, there is a light southeasterly breeze, a temperature of 73 degrees F and a layer of thin, high cirrus clouds.

0629 GMT (2:29 a.m. EDT)

The loading of the Atlas booster and Centaur upper stage with super-cold cryogenic propellant is now completed. Given the cold nature of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, however, the cryogenics naturally boil away during the countdown. As a result, the tanks will be topped off until just minutes prior to liftoff. RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, was loaded aboard the Atlas stage last week.

0627 GMT (2:27 a.m. EDT)

Today's launch window is now open for the Atlas rocket with GOES-L. However, an earlier problem with valves at pad 36A has pushed back the countdown by 40 minutes. The planned liftoff time is 3:07 a.m. EDT (0707 GMT).

0614 GMT (2:14 a.m. EDT)

The Atlas liquid oxygen tank is now 80 percent full, the Centaur liquid hydrogen tank is 40 percent full and the Centaur liquid oxygen tank has been loaded to flight level.

0607 GMT (2:07 a.m. EDT)

Liquid hydrogen chilldown is now complete and loading operations are cleared to begin for the Centaur upper stage. This is the third and final step in fueling the Atlas rocket and Centaur upper stage for launch this morning. Liftoff remains scheduled for 3:07 a.m. EDT (0707 GMT).

0558 GMT (1:58 a.m. EDT)

The liquid oxygen tank inside the Atlas booster stage is now at 10 percent. The rocket's shiny exterior is now turning a frosty white as a thin layer of ice forms from the super-cold liquid oxygen.

0551 GMT (1:51 a.m. EDT)

Centaur liquid oxygen topping to flight level has started. As the countdown proceeds, the tank will be replenished to replace the cryogenic liquid oxygen that naturally boils away.

0550 GMT (1:50 a.m. EDT)

The liquid oxygen tank inside the Centaur upper stage has been filled to its 95-percent level where it is being held. The launch team has now be given the approval to start pumping liquid oxygen into the Atlas booster stage.

0547 GMT (1:47 a.m. EDT)

The final alignment of the Atlas rocket's inertial navigation guidance computer has been completed.

0546 GMT (1:46 a.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank is now at the 80 percent level.

0543 GMT (1:43 a.m. EDT)

The chilldown conditioning of liquid hydrogen propellant feed lines at pad 36A is now starting. This is done to thermally prepare the plumbing before the super-cold cryogenic flows through the pipes and into the rocket. Also at this time, the Complex 36 Blockhouse doors are being sealed.

0537 GMT (1:37 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 75 minutes. The countdown is continuing toward today's rescheduled launch time of 3:07 a.m. EDT (0707 GMT). The Centaur tank is over 30 percent loaded, and the launch team is preparing in the next few minutes to ready the liquid hydrogen system for fueling of the upper stage shortly.

0533 GMT (1:33 a.m. EDT)

The Centaur liquid oxygen tank is now 10 percent full.

A series of Range Safety checks are now underway.

0522 GMT (1:22 a.m. EDT)

The approval has just been given to start loading the Centaur upper stage with its supply of liquid oxygen as the countdown continues for today's 3:07 a.m. EDT (0707 GMT) launch.

Also, the latest report from specialists reponsible for high-altitude wind conditions is weather balloon data looks acceptable for launch today.

0508 GMT (1:08 a.m. EDT)

A "chilldown" procedure has started to thermally condition the liquid oxygen propellants lines at pad 36A in advance of loading the Centaur upper stage. Chilldown is a process in which a small amount of the super-cold liquid oxygen is released from the pad's storage tank into the feed lines that lead to the rocket.

0507 GMT (1:07 a.m. EDT)

T-minus 105 minutes and counting. Countdown clocks are now ticking again at Cape Canaveral for today's launch of an Atlas 2A rocket and the GOES-L weather satellite. Liftoff has been pushed back 40 minutes to 3:07 a.m. EDT due to an earlier problem with some valves at launch pad.

The launch team is now in the process of preparing to fuel the Atlas and Centaur upper stage with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen shortly.

0503 GMT (1:03 a.m. EDT)

A series of readiness checks of the launch team has been completed and officials are preparing to resume the countdown from the T-minus 105 minute mark. The standard 30-minute built-in hold has been extended past its scheduled resumption time of 12:27 a.m. EDT because of the launch pad equipment problem.

0455 GMT (12:55 a.m. EDT)

Officials are now setting up for a new launch time of 3:07 a.m. EDT (0707 GMT) today after a 40-minute delay caused by a hardware problem at pad 36A. A team of engineers have replaced some valves in part of the pad's nitrogen system that cools helium used to pressurize the rocket.

0440 GMT (12:40 a.m. EDT)

The Atlas launch team is working a technical problem that has delayed fueling of the rocket this morning. The countdown remains holding at T-minus 105 minutes and the planned 2:27 a.m. EDT (0627 GMT) launch time has been delayed. Today's available launch window extends to 5:53 a.m. EDT (0953 GMT).

Once super-cold fuel is pumped aboard the Atlas and its Centaur upper stage, that will limit today's three-hour, 26-minute window to only two hours because of limitations for having the cryogenics on the vehicle too long.

We will pass along details as they become available.

0335 GMT (11:35 p.m. EDT)

Final launch preparations are in full swing tonight at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for the flight of a Lockheed Martin Atlas rocket. The launch team is assembled in the Complex 36 Blockhouse and the Integrated Launch Operations are underway for AC-137 and the GOES-L weather satellite.

At pad 36A, the mobile service tower is currently being rolled away from the Atlas rocket and fueling operations should get started at about 12:41 a.m. EDT.

Countdown clocks are headed toward the T-minus 105 minute mark where a 30-minute hold is planned beginning at 11:57 p.m. EDT. Another hold is scheduled at T-minus 5 minutes for a duration of 15 minutes.

Officials continue to target 2:27 a.m. EDT (0627 GMT) for launch, and weather conditions are expected to be acceptable.

0130 GMT (9:30 p.m. EDT)

Lockheed Martin is counting down the final 5 1/2 hours to the planned launch of its Atlas 2A rocket designated AC-137 with the GOES-L weather satellite. At Cape Canaveral's pad 36A, workers have turned on the powerful floods lights and preparations are continuing to roll back the mobile service tower in about two hours.

The latest weather forecast for the 2:27 a.m. EDT (0627 GMT) launch time still shows near-perfect conditions are expected. Air Force Launch Weather Officer Jim Sardonia gives this overview:

"Expect ideal conditions for the launch countdown and window. Strong high pressure dominates the area bringing clear skies and light easterly winds. There will be a very slight chance of cumulus clouds forming over the Gulf Stream and moving inland from the east however these clouds will be few. The only concern on launch day is the slight chance of scattered coastal rainshowers moving within 5 nautical miles of SLC-36A."

The forecast is calling for scattered cumulus clouds at 3,000 feet and altocumulus clouds at 10,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles, southeasterly winds 10 gusting to 18 knots, a temperature between 68 and 70 degrees F and a relative humidity of 70 percent.

The overall probability of violating the lauch weather rules stands at less than 10 percent.

TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2000
2040 GMT (4:40 p.m. EDT)

The launch of the GOES-L weather satellite aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket remains on schedule to occur early Wednesday morning. Officials say activities are proceeding well with no problems to report this afternoon.

The countdown is slated to begin at 5:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT) at Complex 36 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Liftoff from pad 36A is planned for 2:27 a.m. EDT (0627 GMT), the opening of a three-hour, 26-minute window.

A collision avoidance period, or COLA, may prohibit launch in the first minutes of the window. The U.S. Air Force checks the Atlas' launch track with other orbiting objects to ensure a collision does not occur, and such a window "cut out" is expected on Wednesday morning. The exact timing of the COLA will be refined through the final 90 minutes of the countdown.

Weather forecasters are still calling for favorable conditions for launch. There is just a 10 percent chance coastal rainshowers will create a problem.

0501 GMT (12:01 a.m. EDT)

The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket has been given a green light to launch the GOES-L weather satellite into space on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Officials completed the final readiness meetings on Monday, clearing the way for the launch.

There will be a launch window extending from 2:27 to 5:53 a.m. EDT (0627-0953 GMT) in which to get the rocket airborne. Weather forecasters are predicting near-ideal conditions for the predawn liftoff.

Countdown activities will kick off today at 5:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT), and the rocket is scheduled to be powered up for launch at 6:57 p.m. EDT (2257 GMT). The full launch team will be seated in the Complex 36 Blockhouse by 11:12 p.m. EDT (0312 GMT), while senior managers shall be located in the Mission Directors Center a few miles away.

The mobile service tower enclosing the Atlas rocket at pad 36A will be retracted for launch at 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT). The three-step process of fueling the rocket should start at 12:41 a.m. EDT (0441 GMT) when super-cold liquid oxygen begins flowing into Centaur upper stage. Loading of liquid oxygen into the Atlas stage is slated to start at 1:07 a.m. EDT (0507 GMT), followed by liquid hydrogen fueling of the Centaur beginning at 1:21 a.m. EDT (0521 GMT).

For a complete preview of the launch, be sure to read our full story.

MONDAY, MAY 1, 2000
0501 GMT (12:01 a.m. EDT)

Mission managers today will hold their final readiness reviews to clear a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket for launch early Wednesday to place a critical U.S. weather satellite into space. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's pad 36A is scheduled during a window of 2:27 to 5:53 a.m. EDT (0627-0953 GMT).

Workers over the weekend loaded RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, into the Atlas booster. Final countdown activities will begin on Tuesday afternoon leading to Wednesday's pre-dawn launch attempt.

The $250 million GOES-L spacecraft is being launched as an insurance policy of sorts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is the U.S. government agency that controls the nation's weather satellite fleet, including the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES, program.

"GOES satellites are a mainstay of weather forecasting in the United States," said Gerry Dittberner, NOAA's GOES program manager. "They are the backbone of short-term forecasting, or nowcasting. GOES images of clouds are well-known to all Americans; the images can be seen on television weather broadcasts every day."

GOES relies on two working spacecraft orbiting 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator, providing real-time weather data that is seen most notably on TV news. One satellite watches the U.S. East Coast and Atlantic Ocean and the other is stationed over the Pacific Ocean to monitor the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii. Currently, the eastern satellite is GOES-8 launched in 1994; the western craft is GOES-10 launched in 1997.

GOES-8, a crucial tool for tracking Atlantic hurricanes, has already exceeded its five-year life expectancy.

Once in space, GOES-L will be tested and then placed into storage. Controllers will also rename it GOES-11. It will be pressed into service when either GOES-8 or -10 fails.

NOAA wants to the new GOES satellite in orbit as a backup during most of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs June 1 through Oct. 31, especially given GOES-8's extended service life.

"NOAA GOES-L will ensure continuity of GOES data from two GOES, especially for the Atlantic hurricane season," Dittberner said.

Last Friday NASA officials decided against delaying GOES-L in favor of trying to launch the space shuttle Atlantis this week. The space agency said getting GOES-L into orbit was a higher priority than the shuttle.

U.S. Air Force Launch Weather Officer Jim Sardonia says favorable conditions should allow an on-time liftoff on Wednesday for GOES-L.

"Fair weather and predominantly clear skies will exist through Wednesday as strong high pressure builds over Florida in the next few days. High pressure will continue to dominate through Wednesday presenting nearly ideal conditions for the launch countdown and window in the early morning hours of May 3."

The launch time forecast calls for scattered cumulus clouds at 3,000 feet, 7 miles visibility, easterly winds 12 gusting to 20 knots, a temperature of 67 to 69 degrees F, relative humidity of 75 percent and a slight chance of some widely scattered coastal rainshowers moving inland during the launch window.

Overall, there is a 90 percent chance of meeting the launch weather rules with the only minor concern being any coastal rainshowers moving within 5 nautical miles of the pad.

Similar conditions are predicted on Thursday and Friday mornings, should the launch be delayed for some reason. There is a 90 percent chance of good weather on Thursday and 80 percent on Friday.

The Atlas rocket emerges from the mobile service tower at pad 36A just after 11:30 p.m. EDT.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Atlas 2A (AC-137)
Payload: GOES-L
Launch date: May 3, 2000
Launch window: 0627-0953 GMT (2:27-5:53 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-36A, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Flight profile
Track the major launch events for the Atlas 2A rocket carrying the GOES-L satellite on Spaceflight Now's interactive flight profile page (requires JavaScript).

Video vault
The Lockheed Martin Atlas 2A rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral carrying GOES-L into orbit.
  PLAY (311k, 46sec QuickTime file)
Watch a movie about the planned sequence of events as the Atlas 2A rocket carries the GOES-L weather satellite into orbit.
  PLAY (728k, 1min 48sec QuickTime file)
NASA animation shows the GOES weather satellite in geostationary orbit around the Earth.
  PLAY (87k, 15sec QuickTime file)
Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.

Pre-launch briefing
Launch preview - Read our story for a complete preview of the GOES-L launch.

Atlas 2A vehicle data - Overview of the rocket that will launch GOES-L into space.

GOES-L - Description of the satellite to be launched on AC-137.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Launch windows - Available windows for future launch dates of AC-137.

Explore the Net
International Launch Services - Lockheed Martin-led consortium which globally markets the U.S. Atlas and Russian Proton rockets.

Lockheed Martin Astronautics - U.S. company which builds and launches the Atlas family of rockets.

GOES operations - NOAA's Office of Satellite Operations for GOES.

GOES Satellite Server - NOAA Web site with continuous GOES imagery.

GOES at NASA - GOES project management Web site at NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center.

GOES science - NASA's scientific research using GOES satellites.

3rd SLS - U.S. Air Force Space Launch Squadron responsible for the Atlas at Cape Canaveral.

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